‘Welcome to Mahabaleshwar, Sir! Need a hotel?’
‘How many people?’
‘Just one? But here we give rooms only to couples.’
‘Oh, come on! Where will I find a girl at this time now?’
‘No Sir! It’s not like that! There have been incidences here, that a single man comes, and commits suicide!’
‘Do I look suicidal? With this helmet and jacket and all? I would have jumped in the Poladpur ghat if that was my plan!’
‘We had such experiences past Sir. In night the person is alright, and by morning he is gone.’
‘Well, if the hotel doesn’t kill me in the night, I’ll be around in morning too.’
‘You must be from Pune.’
Guess the sharp tongue is indeed an identity of Pune!
Ashram morning was totally different than my past experiences of hotels. The atmosphere was lovely; the rains had taken the morning off. This gave a good chance to roam around and photograph the interesting place.
It is ‘Shri Swami Samartha Ashram’, which houses a temple of Swami Samartha of Akkalkot. Swami Samartha was a saint in Maharashtra who lived around 1920s. His glory lives on long after his Samadhi, and there are many followers in Maharashtra and outside.
But the temple is not the only attraction of this Ashram. This Ashram is constructed on a big land, which mainly houses Ayurvedic plants along with a spice garden.
Tamaal Patra – a spice ingredient not unfamiliar to cooks.
The ‘Magai paan’, that is used for making the paans in shops
I spotted an interesting tree in the campus of ashram. It’s one branch was dried out, and other was blooming in greens. It resembled life itself. One part is always drying slowly, while other is trying to stay green all the time. It is us who can decide whether to dry out or to be green. High or dry!
But the main attraction of this ashram is the Rashi Nakshatra garden. For understanding this, we need to have little understanding of what a Rashi and a Nakshatra means. If one divides the sky up above into 12 equal parts, each part is called Rashi, and if it is divided into 27 equal parts, it is called Nakshatra. Whenever one is born, depending on where the moon was at the time of his or her birth, the Rashi and Nakshatra is calculated. This information can be found out in the horoscope. Now, it is a known though widely debated that each Rashi has a set of attributes of personalities, and persons of same Rashi will react in mostly same ways. In fact, there are some stage-shows around this concept.
An extention of this hypothesis will be, the persons of same Rashi will face similar troubles and illnesses, of psychological, physical and spiritual nature. Ayurveda has given a solution for this. Each Rashi and Nakshatra is assigned a list of trees. If the person of that Rashi spends time in the vicinity of his assigned plants, perhaps meditate in their presence, then their vibrations will cure him or her. This concept is practised in the Rashi Nakshatra garden. This is the first project of its kind in India. The trees in the Garden are not just planted straight from the nursery. Each has undergone ‘training’ in form of Mantras and Yagyas for hours before being planted. Thus these trees are said to have far more healing power than the normal ‘non-trained’ plants. In the making for almost 10 years, these plants are all grown up now, and certainly give a nice feeling to roam around in them.
There are also many flowers in the ashram, some are very rare. A botanist or an Ayurveda practitioner will have the time of his life here. But even a layman like me can have a relaxed afternoon here, just in the company of these well trained plants and beautiful temple.
There is also a Navagraha temple, which is the first and so far the only one in Konkan. These are the Navagraha idols placed in the temple.
After lunch, I left the ashram for Mahabaleshwar. But not before getting blessings from Swami Samartha.
In the seven colors of Maharashtra that we are seeing, hill station is the one that is not yet covered. Therefore, the next halt is Mahabaleshwar. The road is pretty straight forward, from Shrivardhan to Goregaon to Mahad and left to Poladpur. While going, I noticed some Buddhist caves on the left of highway, near Mahad. I stopped in anticipation, but then saw the height at which they were located. No way I was going to climb so many stairs, not with this much luggage or even otherwise. So I satisfied myself by clicking the Pala Caves from a distance, and moved on.
The rains keep on tricking me again and again. Few drops would fall and then everything would go dry for a while. I didn’t take any risk and dodged the raingear to prepare for any amount of rains.
The road till Poladpur is straight and bit boring. But the Poladpur ghat is interesting. Many twists and turns, but no hairclip bends, this ghat is very enjoyable on a bike.
I would love to get cornering shots, and tried it once. Set up the tripod, kept camera on timer, hurriedly went back to bike and rode back down the turn. Came up at speed, started the corner with a nice lean, and at the time when the camera shot picture, an Omni van came in opposite direction effectively ruining what could be a good shot. Tried the same process again, this time it went okay.
This became very boring very fast. Getting down the bike, removing the tripod from the tied luggage and setting it up took far too much time, and the results were always in question. I found a better way, to use humans as tripods! There are some workers working in the ghaat to remove the occasional fallen branches and rubbles off the road. I would hand them the camera will timer on, and would tell them just to hold it steady while it is taking shots. It worked beautifully for some pictures, and terribly for others where the villagers just couldn’t grasp the concept of keeping the camera steady.
I arrived in Mahabaleshwar at about 7.30 P.M., where it had started raining as well as fogging. Soon the fog went from bad to worse, and the visibility reduced by a great extent. Getting a hotel for single person was difficult, as the first thought of the hotel manager would be:
‘Oh no! A suicidal maniac!’
Got tired searching for good hotels, and settled in an okay one, which charged more than it deserved. Yet, that would be my bed tonight. Tomorrow I would go back to home, where family was awaiting me. Mahabaleshwar was the first place that I and Nandinee visited after marriage. Tomorrow I would leave Mahabaleshwar to meet her after 7 days. With a smile on my face, I slept for the last time in a hotel alone on this trip.